Friday, November 18, 2011

What Color Writer Are You?

How you write says a great deal about who you are. This does not mean your nationality can be detected by the candor of your prose, although I suppose if you intentionally set out to achieve that goal you certainly could.
No, I mean there is no color in writing. You might be a black man or a white woman; a Russian immigrant living in Brazil, or a Brazilian living in Thailand; all that matters is the power of your words.
Ultimately we all judge one another. that is how we choose our friends, our spouses, or co-workers, our employers (unless desperation forces us to do otherwise. We review, exclude or select based on certain indicators. Perhaps once those indicators had more to do with the color of our skin or the accent we spoke with, but with writing it has always been about the words we chose.
Words. Words are powerful. Words have weight and ultimately, we bear the weight of the words we choose.

I am white. I am a white, male American. I have never once wondered whether the words I wrote would be accepted by everyone, everywhere, assuming I chose the right ones. Then of course as a white, male American I have never really faced the ostracism, the disdain, the rudeness or contempt which is often heaped upon some people because of their color, where they live or where they came from.

For myself I know I never judge a book by the color of its author. I count Khaled Hosseini and Alice Walker among my favorite authors. But never once did I think they might have wondered, even as they wrote the words which would later inspire me to become a better writer, whether or not their words would ever be read because of the color of their skin.

Maybe that's my failing. I am naive when it comes to comes to just how cruel we, as humans, can be. Then again, I prefer believing that every day, in every way, we, as a species, are getting better and better, and the colors and borders and religions which separate us are beginning to disappear.

At least I hope so.

My father says I should use a pseudonym. "They won't publish you if they see your name. They'll know you're not one of them. They'll know you're one of us." This has never occurred to me, at least not in a serious way. "No publisher in America's going to reject my poems because I have a foreign name," I reply. "Not in 2002." I argue, "These are educated people. My name won't be any impediment." Yet in spite of my faith in the egalitarian attitude of editors and the anonymity of book contests, I understand my father's angle on the issue.

With his beard shaved and his hair shorn, his turban undone and left behind in Bolina Doaba, Punjab--the town whose name we take as our own--he lands at Heathrow in 1965, a brown boy of 18 become a Londoner. His circumstance then must seem at once exhilarating and also like drifting in a lifeboat: necessary, interminable. I imagine the English of the era sporting an especially muted and disdainful brand of racism toward my alien father, his brother and sister-in-law, toward his brother-in-law and sister, his nieces and nephews, and the other Indians they befriend on Nadine Street, Charlton, just east of Greenwich. The sense of exclusion arrives over every channel, dull and constant.

Click here to read more from Jaswinder Bolina.

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